Bancroft Press, 1999, 399 pages, US$24.00 hc, ISBN 1-890862-05-3
Say it, and say it loud: This book is trash, and it makes Mike Walker proud!
What else did you expect from a self-described “weekly gossip columnist for the National Enquirer” whose jacket biography boasts that “He’s done more Geraldo episodes than any other guest”? Walker isn’t a rocket scientist: he’s a fifty-foot shark in the Hollywood trash mag pool.
So when he sets out to write fiction, don’t expect the Great American Novel. Don’t expect a strident denunciation of current American society. In fact, don’t expect much more than a string of salacious anecdotes and passable grammar, because Malicious Intent is what his debut novel is all about. If you’re wondering what a tabloid “writer” would churn out given four hundred pages of prose, this is it. Sex, drugs, and Hollywood.
It starts with a murder and ends in violent death, but don’t make the mistake of taking any of this seriously. This is a thriller where journalist can be two-fisted heroes, where young actresses have older men wrapped around her most tender areas and where everyone’s got a spectacular perversion to hide. Resemblance with reality is strictly optional, but readers of gossip mags will feel right at home.
Malicious Intent‘s so-called plot revolves around Charmain Burns, an up-and-coming actress with a sordid past who will stop at nothing to climb the Hollywood power ladder. As the novel begins, her actions cause the death of a tabloid reporter. As she tries covering up her involvement in the crime, further events are set in motion. Meanwhile, Walker’s narration takes a break in order to explain how Charmaine got to Hollywood, and the trail of broken bodies she has left in her wake.
But as much as we love to hiss at an antagonist, we need a hero to go through the motions of a plot. Enters Cameron Tull, a square-jawed street-smart reporter for the “National Revealer” who won’t accept the death of his colleague. Launching his own parallel investigation into the case, he quickly finds out who’s pulling all the strings… and the only question is whether he’ll be able to resist her.
But never mind the plot, because it’s all structural framework for tawdry titillation, cheap Hollywood caricatures and saucy anecdotes which just may have something to do with real-life Hollywood. It takes merely twenty pages to get to the book’s first S&M orgy. And you haven’t seen the straight-razor castration, the psycho stalker calling himself Randak 2000 or the deaths by immolation.
Oh yes: sex, violence, money, romance, beauty and celebrity: it’s all in here, slathered with double helpings of every deadly sin. Unflappable Cameron Tull gets his girl (though to make it easier, it turns out to be a long-lost love), fights temptation, sets things right and rides off in the sunset under a killer headline. Meanwhile, we get a look at the fairyland underbelly of Hollywood, learn entirely misleading information about the glamour of gossip magazines and mentally relax for four hundred pages. This is perfect beach-side reading as long as you leave the red pencil home. It’s nearly impossible to stop reading once it gets going.
Even the clunky style of Walker’s prose gets in the act. Clearly, no editor at the lower-tier Bancroft House (“Books that Enlighten”) has dared suggest that a professional writer shouldn’t overuse narrative ellipses, written accents and SHOUTING ALL CAPS like that. No one dared suggest that the clichés and ethnic stereotype (“[they arched] their backs to accentuate that most devastating Latin male magnet: the big, shapely ass.” [P.192]) was a bit too much over the top. And why would they? If you’re going to knock down the markers of good taste, you might as well hit all of them.
The result certainly won’t be remembered for anything more than a very guilty pleasure, an instantly-forgettable piece of raunchy trash and beautiful sleaze. If we must judge books on their objectives and how well they fulfil them, then Malicious Intent is a complete success. It hits the centre of the target and stays embedded there. Mike Walker may have little writing talent and a complete lack of literary ambition, but he knew what he was doing in writing his novel, and he ought to be proud of the result… in his own way.